Strategic Plan, Research Goals

Goal Structure

NIOSH’s portfolio of research programs is organized into a grid of sectors and cross-sectors, infused with core and specialty programs. Intermediate and activity research goals are shared by sector, cross-sector, and relevant core and specialty programs. The blue grid below has links to more detailed information about these goals.

Intermediate Goals

Intermediate goals specify desired actions on the part of external stakeholders using NIOSH research findings and outputs. In the blue grid below, each intermediate goal is linked to separate page with a table and descriptive text that provides more detailed information. The tables have four columns (health outcome, research focus, worker population, and research type), and the rows specify research needs. You can learn more about the information presented in each table in the box below.

Health outcomes are reductions in illnesses, injuries and fatalities, as well as improvements to health and well-being. Intermediate goals sometimes encompass more than one health outcome, so this column provides greater specificity. For example, a goal to reduce a workplace hazardous exposure might contribute to reducing both cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes.

This column identifies the problems that programs want to solve. For example, a research focus can be a hazardous exposure that contributes to an illness or injury; an aspect of the organization of work; a risk factor for injuries, illnesses, or decreased well-being; or a type of injury.

The worker populations with the greatest burden include either workers in a specific job or setting, or workers with a specific hazardous exposure. In some cases, additional worker populations experience a high burden because of the changing nature of work and employment arrangements.

NIOSH has developed the following taxonomy for work arrangements.1

  • Standard work arrangement – An arrangement that is secure or permanent (career). These workers have employee status, stable and adequate pay, access to health insurance, paid leave and retirement benefits, a regular, full-time work schedule, and the ability to negotiate their schedule and take time off.
  • Non-standard work arrangement – An arrangement that differs in some way from the standard arrangement.
  • Contingent workers – Those with a job that they do not expect to last (see alternative definitions used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) with the Contingent Work Survey2).
  • Precarious employment – Employment with some degree of the following: insecurity, temporariness, vulnerability to unfair treatment, lack of ability to negotiate pay, benefits, and work schedule, lack of ability to take leave, and lack of social safety net including unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance.

Work arrangement categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, some workers in standard arrangements may experience unfair treatment, a characteristic of precarious employment.

The intermediate goal tables refer to two other worker populations:

  • Vulnerable workers – Different factors can make some workers more vulnerable than others to workplace illness or injury. These differences include factors, such as age, race/ethnicity, class, nativity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, intersex status, English language skills, and disability status; economic trends, such as growth of the temporary workforce; and organizational factors, such as business size. Vulnerable workers have increased rates of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Small businesses – For most occupational safety and health research purposes, NIOSH considers small businesses as having fewer than 50 employees. Smaller businesses often have fewer resources to devote to occupational safety and health because they face a riskier economic environment and have greater financial limitations than larger businesses.
  • Young worker – NIOSH defines young workers as those between the ages of 15 and 24. Federal and state child labor laws, which regulate the employment of minors, are tied to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (“Fair Labor Standards Act,” 1938). The FLSA limits the types of jobs youths aged 14 to 17 years are allowed to perform, the number of hours they may work, and the timing of these hours. However, national injury and fatality data usually do not include youth under age 15.
  • Older workers– There is no consensus on the definition of “older worker.” Generally, in the United States, research efforts tend to focus on the age group 55 years or older. But other age thresholds are sometimes used, such as 50 years or older (AARP) and 40 years or older (Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967).  However, it is important to acknowledge that chronological age, by itself, is not always a strong predictor of workplace outcomes, and that aging is a complex process influenced by many factors. As a result, there can be great individual variability in the work ability and occupational safety and health outcomes among older workers. Therefore, researchers should be aware that it might be of more value to think about a worker’s lifespan and not an absolute chronological age at which all workers can be considered “older.”

Each intermediate goal is also accompanied by a short description of the burden and need, based on the Burden, Need, and Impact Method. Together, the tables and description guide researchers to high priority areas, while allowing flexibility for new ideas.

1. Bushnell T, Scharf T, Alterman T, Cummings KJ, Luckhaupt SE, Ray TK, Rosa RR, Su CP [2017]. Developing a Taxonomy of Work Arrangements to Examine Relationships with Worker Safety, Health, and Well-Being. Poster presented at Work, Stress and Health 2017, Minneapolis, MN, June 8,

2. BLS [2005] Contingent and alternative employment arrangements. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

NIOSH has adopted an organizing framework comprised of four types of research:

  • Basic/etiologic: Builds a foundation of scientific knowledge to base future interventions. Most laboratory research falls into this category, as well as exposure assessment.
  • Intervention: Engages in the development, testing, or evaluation of a solution to an occupational safety and health problem or the improvement of an existing intervention. Intervention is a broad term that includes engineering controls, personal protective equipment, training, and fact sheets, and other written materials intended to inform and change behavior, among other occupational safety and health solutions.
  • Translation: Discovers strategies to translate research findings and theoretical knowledge to practices or technologies in the workplace. This type of research seeks to understand why available, effective, evidence-based interventions are not being adopted.
  • Surveillance: Develops new surveillance methods, tools, and analytical techniques.

Each intermediate goal is also accompanied by a short description of the burden and need, based on the Burden, Need, and Impact Method. Together, the tables and description guide researchers to high priority areas, while allowing flexibility for new ideas.

Activity Goals

Activity goals describe which of the four types of research will move goals along the research to practice (r2p) continuum. They are presented on the intermediate goal pages with their “parent” goal.  Each activity goal includes the types of research, the health outcome, and the sector in which the research will be undertaken.

NIOSH Program Grid: Intermediate Goals

NIOSH Program Grid: Intermediate Goals
Cancer, Reproductive, Cardiovascular, and Other Chronic Disease Prevention Hearing Loss Prevention Immune, Infectious, and Dermal Disease Prevention Musculoskeletal Health Respiratory Health Traumatic Injury Prevention Healthy Work Design and Well-Being
Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing
  • 1.1 Pesticide exposure and neurologic disorders
  • 1.2 Renal diseases
  • 3.1 Skin exposure to pesticides and total body burden
  • 3.2 Infectious disease transmission
  • 4.1 Exposure to vibration and repetitive motion
  • 5.1 Fixed airways diseases
  • 6.1 Traumatic injury among high risk populations
  • 7.16 – Precarious Employment Arrangements
  • 7.17 Work organization, Fatigue, and Mental Health
  • 2.1 Engineering controls to reduce noise exposure
  • 2.2 Hearing loss prevention education for employers and workers
  • 4.2 MSD Interventions
  • 5.2 Exposure to mineral dusts
  • 5.3 Mixed exposures
  • 6.2 Falls
  • 6.21 Struck-by Injuries
  • 6.3 Injuries related to emerging technologies (e.g. robots and exoskeletons)
  • 6.19 Substance use/misuse
  • 7.1 Non-standard work arrangements
  • 7.11 Total Worker Health®
Healthcare and Social Assistance
  • 1.3 Adverse reproductive outcomes
  • 1.4 Work organization and cancer, CVD
  • 3.3 Infectious disease transmission
  • 3.4 Exposures related to asthma and other immune diseases
  • 4.8 MSD interventions
  • 5.4 Work-related asthma
  • 5.12 Interstitial/fibrotic lung disease
  • 6.4 Injuries caused by patients (human and animal)
  • 7.2 Work organization
  • 7.12 Total Worker Health®
  • 1.5 Exposure to carcinogens
  • 1.6 Adverse reproductive outcomes
  • 1.7 Exposure to welding fumes and neurologic disorders
  • 2.3 Exposure to hazardous noise and ototoxic chemicals
  • 2.4 Hearing loss prevention education for employers and workers
  • 3.8 Hazardous exposures and immune diseases
  • 4.3 MSDs and emerging technologies (e.g. robots, exoskeletons)
  • 5.5 Dust-induced respiratory diseases
  • 5.6 Fixed airways diseases
  • 5.7 Work-related asthma
  • 6.5 Machine-related injuries
  • 1.8 Hazardous airborne contaminants and cancer
  • 2.5 Noise control engineering and hearing loss surveillance
  • 4.4 MSD risk factors
  • 5.8 Exposure to mineral dusts
  • 5.9 Mixed exposures
  • 6.6 Machine-related injuries
  • 6.7 Ground control-related injuries
  • 6.8 Traumatic injuries associated with fires and explosions
  • 6.9 Excessive heat exposure
  • 6.18 Slips, trips, and falls
  • 7.3 Work organization and fatigue-related injuries
Oil and Gas Extraction
  • 2.6 Exposure to hazardous noise and otototoxic chemicals
  • 3.5 Hazardous dermal exposures
  • 5.10 Silica-induced respiratory diseases
  • 6.10 Motor vehicle crashes
  • 7.13 Fatigue, Work organization, substance use/misuse
Public Safety
  • 1.9 Exposure to carcinogens
  • 1.10 Risk factors for CVD
  • 3.6 Infectious disease transmission
  • 3.7 Hazardous exposures to illicit drugs
  • 5.11 Fixed airways diseases
  • 6.11 Motor vehicle crashes
  • 6.12 Violence
  • 6.20 Substance use/misuse
  • 7.4 Work organization and mental health
  • 7.14 Total Worker Health®
  • 1.11 Risk factors and burden of CVD
  • 1.12 Adverse reproductive outcomes
  • 2.7 Exposure to hazardous noise
  • 3.9 Hazardous exposures and immune diseases
  • 4.5 Risk factors for back injuries
  • 5.13 Mixed exposures
  • 6.13 Falls
  • 7.5 Non-standard work arrangements
  • 7.15 Total Worker Health®
Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities
  • 1.13 CVD and obesity, work organization
  • 6.14 Transportation incidents
  • 6.15 Machine-related injuries
  • 7.6 Work organization and obesity/chronic disease
  • 7.7 Work organization and fatigue-related injuries
  • 7.8 Stress/Fatigue and human machine interaction
Wholesale and Retail Trade
  • 4.6 MSDs among older workers
  • 4.7 MSDs and emerging technologies (e.g., robots and exoskeletons)
  • 6.16 Slips, trips, and falls
  • 6.17 Motor vehicle crashes
  • 7.9 Work organization and MSDs
  • 7.10 Non-standard work arrangements and vulnerable workers